Nigeria, on the face of it, has ticked all the right boxes to showcase its support for human rights. Nigeria has ratified several international and regional human rights treaties. It is also up to date with its reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and submitted its 3rd Universal Periodic Review report to the Human Rights Council during its last review. In the last few years, the Nigerian government have successfully enacted laws criminalising Torture (Anti-Torture Act); prohibited violence against all persons in private and public life (Violence Against Persons Act); and supported full integration of persons with disability into society (Discrimination Against Persons with Disability (Prohibition) Act). However, full compliance to human rights treaties and implementation of the national human rights legal framework is poor and implementation is often a mirage.
While Nigeria remains the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa (PWC report) it also has the largest number of the most extreme poor people overtaking India in the World Poverty Clock rankings in 2018. The poor are denied a life of dignity as hunger, ill health and social exclusion is their daily reality. They are often vulnerable and mostly targeted in forced evictions that have taken place in Lagos for example, where over 30,000 people were forcibly evicted from Otodo-Gbame waterfront community on three occasions between November 2016 and April 2017.
There are several reports of deaths, killings documented by Amnesty International, Nigerian Mourns coalition and the media. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker revealed that 28,130 people were reportedly killed in Nigeria between May 2011 and June 2019. The 10-year long insurgency in north-east Nigeria, the escalating violence between herders and farmer communities in Nigeria, extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearance and killing of protesters by security agents are well reported and contribute to a bloody state of affairs. That no part of the country is spared violent killings requires strong decisive action. The recently concluded Presidential Panel on SARS gives a small glimmer of hope that perpetrators may be brought to justice. However until justice is seen to be done and other cases go unpunished, impunity will continue to reign.
Nigeria was the worst performing country out of 127 on the World Internal Security and Police Index (WISPI). While recognising that Nigeria has an averaged size police force that is greatly under-equipped and the military has spent a greater part of their service in combating the insurgency and conflict spots across the country. The scale of abuses by security forces show the need for human rights to be a key factor in their training, operations and reviews.
Nigeria is generally considered partly free as depicted in the Freedom in the World 2019 report. Yet journalists and other media practitioners including bloggers face increasing erosion of the rights to freedom of expression and the press. Reporters Without Borders rate Nigeria as 120th position in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Many make a joke of the ‘Daily Trust’ treatment when referring to the risk of getting your office raided by security agents who are not happy with reporting or publication of a story. We may joke but when Daily Trust newspapers had their offices raided in January 2019 and reporters questioned, it was a threat to the guarantee of freedom of expression in Nigeria. Human rights defenders and civil society play a key role in drawing attention to society issues and human rights violations. When they become targeted themselves when they speak up, it leads to an erosion of the civic space. Nigeria is yet to adopt legislative measures to protect human rights defenders in conformity with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 1998 and the Commission’s Resolutions on Human Rights Defenders which it had committed to do before international bodies.
A few weeks ago on 31 May 2019, Amnesty International Nigeria, presented ‘Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda’ calling on the government of Nigeria to commit that human rights will be at the heart of their policies.
The 8-point agenda provides human rights issues with recommendations to guide the government in taking steps to address the current situation. These are: End all forms of violence against women and girls, Protect the rights of children, Ensure accountability for the Niger Delta clean-up, Guarantee freedom of expression, End torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, Secure Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Protect the civic space and improve the operating environment for human rights defenders and activists, and Abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences
All the indices point to very critical issues which the government of Nigeria should treat comprehensively and with the urgency it deserves. As a country, Nigeria cannot relax on its laurels alone. Transitioning from military to civilian rule 20 years ago, ratification of key human rights treaties, presence in international standard setting bodies such as the Human Rights Council, achieving a GDP of $1.121 trillion, while commendable are not enough. The benefits must translate to real transformation for people. And a reassurance the past abuses would be addressed with a commitment not to permit the abuses.
The government should place human rights at the heart of its policy making. It should formulate and publicize a human rights agenda within the framework of its national and foreign policies to demonstrate a long-term commitment to entrenching a culture of human rights in Nigeria. The new dispensation provides the government an opportunity to end human rights violations by taking effective steps to combat impunity. It can only do so by acting promptly and efficiently to reports of violations and strengthening mechanisms to ensure justice for past abuses. Where abuses have been alleged against security agents or government officials, they must be subject to independent investigation or risk perpetuating the perception that certain people are above the law. The human rights policy that evolves would benefit from a wide consultative process therefore the Nigerian government should work closely with civil society and human rights defenders in Nigeria as partners for progress and development.
Nigeria is at a fragile cusp and denying the reality of challenges that exist will only lead it to a dangerous point of complete anarchy and disillusionment. The resources – human and financial exist to build a better Nigeria where human rights are promoted, protected, respected and fulfilled without discrimination.
Osai Ojigho is the Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.